Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
1 October 2000 Issue

Life as a Vegetarian Teen
by [email protected]

If it seemed as if going vegetarian is becoming more popular these days, you are correct, and especially among teenagers. A recent poll conducted by Roper found that 11% of girls aged 13-17 ate no meat. Also, about 25% of teenagers say being a vegetarian is "in" according to Teenage Research Unlimited. Vegetarians choose not to eat meat and this diet has many benefits. However, some people choose to be vegans.

Most people have not heard the word vegan before, but veganism is defined as a way of living which excludes, as far as possible, all forms of cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. Teens who go vegan say that even though cows aren't killed during milk production, they don't want to support any industry that confines animals for human use. Rice or soymilk are great replacements for dairy milk.

And in dietary terms being a vegan is eating no animal produce including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, animal milks, honey and other derivatives.

I have found that many people think this diet is crazy and extremely difficult. But, in fact it is not at all hard to do, perhaps the hardest part is explaining to people why you want to live like this because many people do not know, or choose not to know how livestock are treated on farms. Some well-known young people who are vegetarians: Drew Barrymore, Fiona Apple, Daniel Johns from the Australian band silverchair (vegan,) Alicia Silverstone, Jennie Garth, Liv Tyler, Natalie Portman, and Rider Strong. Even Albert Einstein was a vegetarian and once said, "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."

I lived the first fourteen years of my life a meat-eater, living quietly and unaware of the inhumane and cruel conditions at slaughterhouses from which the meat I ate came from. Last July, on a whim, while sitting at the dinner table with a sausage on a roll in my hand, I told my family that this is the last piece of meat I will ever eat. They looked at me in disbelief, they doubted this newly found compassion toward animals would last and to be honest, so did I. True, I have not been a vegan for long but as I looked into it more in books and on the internet I found the factory farming of animals more and more disturbing and I am confident that it is not a faze as most might think.

There are three main reason that make people want to become vegetarians or vegans. Cruel and inhumane practices in dairy, livestock and poultry farming is probably the single most common reason to become a vegan, but some do it for health, environmental, or other reasons. Anina, 15 says, "I'm a vegan for ethical reasons, because I don't believe that human animals are above non-human animals and [I believe] that we don't have the right to use animals as we wish." Lauren Elberson, a senior at Starpoint High School says, "I always wanted to become a vegetarian for mostly philosophical reason but, also to cut back on fat."

Many teens become vegetarians for the simple premise that animals can feel pain just like we can. About 8 billion animals die or are slaughtered every year in the US for the production of flesh food; millions more die of stress, suffocation, injury, or disease. There are virtually no laws against cruelty to animals raised for food in the US. The Animal Welfare Act, which governs the humane treatment of animals, excludes animals intended for food consumption. In his or her lifetime, the average meat-eater is responsible for the abuse and deaths of 2,400 animals.

Paul and Linda McCartney (both vegetarians) once said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian." The conditions in slaughterhouses are horrendous. For example, up to six hens are crowded into a cage with floor space hardly larger than a record-cover, for their entire life-time; their legs and feet grow twisted and deformed from standing on the slanted wire cage bottoms.

Many factory-farmed animals never see a blade of grass in their life. Animals are transported to be slaughtered without food and water for a long time, millions die on the way to the slaughter. Cows that are injured or become sick during the transport to the stockyards or slaughterhouses often become unable to stand. They are referred to as "downers" and are often pushed around with bulldozers into piles and are left to die a horrific death. Up to 50,000 chickens live in a typical warehouse to increase profits, farmers feed them growth hormones and as a result, many birds suffer from crippling bone disorders and spinal defects.

Pigs are confined to stalls barely larger than their bodies, the stench is often so overpowering even the farmers only spend a few minutes a day in the pig buildings. Lack of exercise causes the pigs to become so weak that they can barely walk 50 yards. Pigs are naturally clean animals who roll in the mud only to cool off or escape the flies. Pigs are at least as intelligent as dogs, and like dogs are friendly and gregarious.

Josh, 17 says, "It's amazing how much being a vegan has changed my perspective. I see a lot more injustices than I used to." There are many injustices for livestock in the US. The US Department of Agriculture for meat and poultry inspectors regularly witness the following by livestock handlers: beating animals, poking the animals in the eyes, anus, or vulva, overcrowding of pens so that animals are trampled, tormenting the animals for no reason, and leaving dead animals on trucks with the live ones. Animals have no voice so it is up to us to stand up for them to stop their suffering.

Vegans also choose not to wear such animal products as wool, leather, or down. Leather goods are made from the byproducts of the slaughterhouse, while you may not be contributing to the destruction of animals; you will be contributing to the profits of these establishments.

The making of down is also inhumane. This down or goose feathers is normally used as filling for winter "bubble" jackets, pillows, or bed comforters. The process of the live plucking of geese is wide spread. The terrified birds are lifted by their necks, with their legs tied, and then have all their body feathers ripped out. This torture, which has been described as "extremely cruel" by veterinary surgeons and even geese breeders, begins when the geese are only eight weeks old, and is repeated in eight-week intervals throughout their life. As a result, many geese suffer from crippling bone disorders and spinal defects.

Teens may also choose to be a vegan or vegetarian for the astonishing health benefits. Diets that include meat/dairy products are linked to many types of cancer, heart ailments, diabetes, obesity, gallbladder disease, hypertension, and other deadly diseases and disorders. By being a vegan, you reduce your risk of a heart attack by 90%. Also, meat contains approximately 14 times more pesticides than plant foods. And up 95-99% of toxic chemical residues in the American diet comes from animal sources.

The Environment is also suffering because of the meat industry. Livestock production is the major cause of desertification as well as the loss of trees. Every year in the US, an area the size of Connecticut is lost to topsoil erosion and 85% of erosion is associated with livestock production. As many as twenty vegans could be fed on the same amount of land needed to feed just one person consuming a meat-based diet. Also, for each quarter-pound hamburger sold that came from cattle raised on former rainforest, 55 square feet of rainforest was destroyed. Animal production also requires a lot of fossil fuels and the burning of these fuels, as well as methane produced by animals, is one cause of global warming. A vegetarian saves one full acre of trees every year.

At first, vegans may get overwhelmed and think that vegan diets require elaborate planning and lots of expensive test and supplements. Yes, it does take some planning, but it's not all that difficult. Things to remember:

  • Eat lots of fruits, and especially veggies

  • Base your diet on whole grains

  • Watch your calcium intake (most soy milk contains the same amount of calcium as regular dairy milk.)

  • Eat enough food

If you are still worried, round out your diet with a multivitamin/mineral supplement for extra insurance. Also, since teenagers are active and growing, it is important that they get enough calories, and as long as you are getting enough calories, you don't need to be worried about getting enough protein. Green leafy vegetables are as good or better than milk as a calcium source. Lauren Elberson also says, "I cook all my own meals, I get home after practice and I just make some pasta and a vegetable or a Gardenburger. I also really like to eat fruit and yogurt." Vegetarian cooking can be fun, it is good to be experimental and open to new recipes.

Another great source of protein, iron, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals is tofu. When I first decided to go vegan I swore I would never eat tofu but things didn't go as I planned. Tofu is actually soy bean curd; it has a natural mild flavor and the ability to absorb the flavors of other ingredients, and it is actually quite good. Tofu took some getting used to but now, it is one of my favorite foods especially grilled and barbecued on a roll with fresh lettuce. Tofu can also be used to make frosting for cakes, dips, stir-frys, and soups.

However it can be hard for most young people to want to adopt this new diet, especially in the teenage years when most kids want to fit in and being a vegan or vegetarian is making yourself different from your peers. Being a vegetarian or vegan can be uncomfortable when approached with social situations. For example, at parties pizza is a popular meal, and while it doesn't bother me that my friends choose to eat meat and dairy, it can be uncomfortable watching everyone else eat. Kathleen, 17, a vegan says, "I choose not to eat meat, flesh, or whatever you want to call it, and other people choose to eat it. I want people to respect my decision and to allow me to eat what I want without being hassled for it." Also, sometimes people tend to go out of their way to make sure you have something to eat, and that could make you feel like a burden.

Yes, I have heard all the "veggie" jokes mostly coming from my lunch table at school full of predominantly adolescent boys staring in wonder and disgust at my tofu sandwiches, and occasionally cracking a joke to annoy me, or getting the whole table to sarcastically chant "Vegans Rule!" Probably the best thing to do is laugh about it. Perhaps they will never quite get it. But most of my friends don't mind me being a vegan and have grown used to it. Andrea, 19 says, "Just the other day I had to answer my friend's questions about being a vegetarian. I'm happy because I think she gets it. Maybe she'll decide to go veggie."

To me, being a vegan is more of a statement and a boycott of the meat industry rather than just a diet. As teenagers we are the future and the little things we do like cutting back on our meat-consumption can help build ourselves a healthier body and environment.

Go on to The Rebirth of The Animals' Voice Magazine
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